96-year-old Allahabad University Students’ Union to be replaced by students’ council
A long innings in student politics is about to come to an end.
The 96-year-old Allahabad University Students’ Union (AUSU), often dubbed India’s ‘nursery of politics’, will be replaced with a students’ council from this academic session. The council will have office bearers and members appointed through indirect polls and nominations, instead of direct elections that AUSU witnessed.
The central university administration has taken the decision following approval of the move by its academic council and the decision’s final approval by the executive council, the apex decision-making body of the 131-year-old varsity.
The administration has attributed the change to the Lyngdoh committee recommendations, which were introduced to bring pan-India reform in university students’ union elections.
The AU administration also claims the new model is much better than the prevailing one as it would allow students from every faculty and department across the graduation, post-graduation and PhD level courses to have the opportunity to get elected.
However, critics cite the step as a “move to throttle the voice of students and the student leaders who had been critical of the varsity administration and its various administrative and financial anomalies”.
Student leaders have already started protesting the decision through frequent sit-ins, marches and petitions to top politicians of the country.
Allahabad University public relations officer Chitranjan Kumar cites Sections 6.1.2 and 6.2.1 of the Lyngdoh committee recommendations for this switch over, saying that only universities with small campuses and a few students, like Jawaharlal Nehru University and Hyderabad University, should have their students’ unions through direct elections while universities with a large number of students and several campuses like AU should opt for student councils.
“These recommendations of the Lyngdoh Committee, formed by the union ministry of human resource development (MHRD) in 2006 on orders of the Supreme Court, have been approved by the apex court and it is mandatory for all universities to implement them,” he said.
Under the new system, students will first elect class representatives who will form an electoral college. These class representatives will, in turn, elect office bearers of the students’ council from among themselves. The council will also have a number of students as members after being nominated by the university itself.
Beginning Of The End
Many observers, however, point to the Lyngdoh Committee recommendations themselves for bringing about the end of AUSU in its original form.
“The recommendations introduced age limit (17 to 22 years for undergradudates, 24 to 25 years for post graduate students and 28 years for research scholars) for students to contest the polls and limited the times one could contest for a seat by making it clear that a candidate shall have one opportunity to contest for the post of office bearer, and two opportunities to contest for the post of an executive member. This virtually meant that any student leader with aspirations to one day contest for legislative assembly or Parliament should move elsewhere,” said a former professor of AU requesting anonymity.
Allahabad University proctor prof Ram Sevak Dubey says, “The cause of AU students’ union has been hurt the most by the muscle power and money that became part of the poll process during in the past 20-odd years. Against the set norm of maximum expenditure of ₹5000 for a candidate, we had student leaders spending lakhs to get elected. Murders, life attempts, extortion, using hostels for nefarious activities by so-called student leaders became the norm. We had listed criminals enrolling in the university, contesting polls and even managing to win.” Dubey is himself an alumnus of AU.
He says out of the over 26,000 students of the university, a mere 26 are protesting the switch to students’ council and a majority of them have either been expelled from the university or suspended.
“The shift to students’ council is the need of the campus. It is in interest of the common students,” he says.
His stand seems to have substance. Besides numerous clashes between rival students leaders, the university witnessed a brutal murder as a fallout of the rivalry in November 2018.
Student leader Sumit Shukla aka Achyutanand, who had a reward of ₹25000 on his head, was shot dead at a party at PC Bannerjee Hostel, allegedly by three student leaders of a constituent college of the university. Achyutanand, who had a number of cases registered against him, had contested for the vice president’s post in the 2012 students’ union election, but lost. In April 2019, another former student of Allahabad University Rohit Shukla, who was also a history-sheeter, was shot dead allegedly by rivals at the PC Bannerjee Hostel. He was said to have been close to Achyutanand.
Abhishek Singh aka Michael, former general secretary of AUSU, had contested the students union polls from behind bars and won in 2012. A listed criminal, Michael had managed the win after being arrested and sent to jail for an attack on his political rival Abhishek Singh ‘Sonu’.
The Other Side
There are many who blame the university administration and its teachers for the state of affairs at AUSU.
Abhay Awasthi, a political commentator who served as vice-president of AUSU in 1998, says, “No student comes to a university to become a criminal. Here, students with political aspirations were manipulated by select teachers of the university. How can individuals with criminal history not only contest students’ union polls but also succeed in getting admission to various courses year after year when the regulations clearly ban it and everything from admissions, examinations to students’ union elections are being held under direct supervision of teachers.” Although AU officials deny any such reason, Awasthi, maintains the role of university teachers has been negative in the whole affair and needs to be probed.
Richa Singh, the first woman to be elected president of AUSU after independence and now a Samajwadi Party leader, maintains the entire exercise is aimed to punish and undermine a union that has always been critical of the university administration and the vice chancellor.
“Irrespective of the student leaders at the helm of the union and their ideology or affiliation, they have continuously raised their voice against financial and administrative irregularities committed in the university, be it in spending of public funds, recruitments in the university and its colleges as well as purchases and constructions. This change is aimed at having a students’ body that remains subservient to the university administration at all times,” claimed Richa Singh, who served as AUSU president in 2015.
AUSU’s 2018 vice-president Akhilesh Yadav, who is at the forefront of the protests against the switch over from students’ union to students’ council, terms the move dictatorial.
“The VC and the officials are spelling the death of students’ union through their move. When union elections, right since 2012 are being held as per Lyngdoh committee’s recommendations, why then is this change being implemented? Have the university officials even asked the students what they want? We will oppose this tooth and nail,” he warned.
“In light of my protests, I, along with many other student leaders, have been suspended, banned from campus and expelled. We have also been repeatedly lathi-charged. Now even a show cause has been served on me to withdraw my degree awarded by AU,” he said.
National Leaders Oppose AUSU’s Replacement
The decision to replace Allahabad University Students Union with students’ council, as well as action against student leaders by the university administration, has evoked a strong response from national level leaders.
Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has tweeted her criticism of the suspension and blacklisting of AUSU’s 2018 vice-president Akhilesh Yadav, who belongs to NSUI, and questioned as to why the BJP government, which itself came to power through elections, was trying to take this right away from the students. Senior leaders of Youth Congress like Keshav Chand Yadav and Shrinivas BV also tweeted against the AU administration’s move. Neeraj Kundan, national president of NSUI, the student wing of the Congress, came to AU campus to extend support to students staging demonstration and sit-ins to fight the AU administration’s move.
A Nursery of Politics
AUSU has given the country three Prime Ministers — Gulzarilal Nanda, VP Singh and Chandra Shekhar — besides a president in the shape of Shankar Dayal Sharma. All of them polished their political skills in this very union.
Former Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand chief minister ND Tiwari, who also served as Andhra Pradesh governor, became the first president of AUSU after Independence. Former chief ministers Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna, Madan Lal Khurana (a former general secretary of AUSU) and the late socialist leader Janeshwar Mishra started their political careers here. Former Lok Sabha secretary general Subhash Kashyap served as AUSU president in 1948.
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